Meal periods are important; they give staff a break, give them food fuel for the rest of their shift, allow employees to socialize and they are required by law. It is imperative that employers, managers, and supervisors understand meal period requirements.
Requirements for Meal Periods:
- All non-exempt employees in California must receive a meal period of no less than 30 minutes before the completion of the 5th hour of work (latest clock out should be at 4 hours and 59 minutes of work).
- During the meal period, employees must be relieved of all duty and all employer control must be relinquished. Ideally, employees should get away from their desk or work area to resist the temptation to work and support the argument that they were not working or required to work.
- Meal periods should not be interrupted by work-related questions, tasks or calls. No exception for those “just a quick question” questions, wait until after their meal period.
- Timekeeping records must reflect the beginning and ending times of the meal period. Generally, there will be 4 punches per day; IN, OUT for lunch, IN from lunch and OUT for the day.
- A second meal break must be provided for a work period of more than 10 hours.
- Meal periods cannot be “saved” for the last half hour of the day allowing the employee to leave their shift early.
I’m not hungry…
What if an employee wants to waive their meal period? Meal periods can be waived with mutual employee and employer consent when:
- A work period will be NO longer than 6 hours.
- A meal period waiver is completed and approved by both the employee and employer anytime a meal is allowed to be waived.
- A second meal break can be waived IF: 1) the first was not waived, 2) the work period will not be over 12 hours and 3) employee and employer mutually consent.
Do’s and Don’ts for Meal Periods:
DO have a clearly written and enforced meal period policy.
DO require employees to record meal periods in the timekeeping system.
DO have employees complete meal waivers when requested and appropriate.
DO schedule workload to allow for timely meal periods.
DO train supervisors on meal period requirements and the importance of compliance.
DO NOT have a “working lunch” and call it good because you paid for the food.
DO NOT forget to pay an hour of premium pay if an employee is not able to take a meal period such as a “working lunch” above.
DO NOT stop, impede or deny an employee a meal period when required.
DO NOT set deadlines or workload such that a meal period would not be easily taken